Munda Trail: The New Georgia Campaign

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Stuart Clayton. Benjamin Franklin. Walter Isaacson. John Keegan.

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When will my order be ready to collect? The bunkers were mutually supporting and well protected by coconut logs and coral. Each held a machine gun or automatic weapon. Here the 1st Battalion's attack ground to a halt. Liversedge, accompanying the northern prong of his offensive, committed the 4th Battalion in an attempt to turn the enemy flank, but it met the same heavy resistance. The raider companies slowly worked their way forward, and by late after noon they had seized the first two enemy lines. However, throughout this advance enemy 90mm mortar fire swept the Marine units and inflicted numerous casualties.

The southern prong of the attack was faring less well. The Army battalion made its first contact with the enemy just 1, yards from Bairoko, but the Japanese held a vital piece of high ground that blocked the trail.

With the lagoon on one side and a deep swamp on the other, there was no room for the soldiers to maneuver to the flanks of the enemy position. With the approval of the executive officer of the raider regiment, the commander of the Army battalion pulled back his lead units and used his two 81mm mortars to soften the defenses. When news of the halt in the southern attack made it to Liversedge at , he asked the commanders of the raider battalions for their input.

Griffith and Currin checked their lines. They were running out of water and ammunition, casualties had been heavy, and there was no friendly fire support. Neither battalion had any fresh reserves to commit to the fight. Moreover, a large number of men would be needed to hand-carry the many wounded to the rear. The 4th Raiders alone had 90 litter cases. From their current positions on high ground the Marine commanders could see the harbor just a few hundred yards away, but continued attacks against a well-entrenched enemy with fire superiority seemed wasteful.

Not long after Liversedge issued orders for all battalions to pull back into defensive positions for the night in preparation for a withdrawal to Enogai and Triri the next day. He requested air strikes to cover the latter movement. The move back across Dragons Peninsula on 21 July went smoothly from a tactical point of view.

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After failing to provide air support for the attack, higher echelons sent sorties against Bairoko to cover the withdrawal. The Japanese did not pursue, but even so it was tough going on the ground. Water was in short supply and everyone had to take turns carrying litters. On July 19, the Northern Landing Force, consisting of four battalions of Marines, began operations to move inland and take Munda Airfield from the north. However, the four battalions lacked heavy weapons or significant fire support and in three days of heavy fighting were chewed down to skeletons of their former size.

By July 21, their offensive had stalled and they moved back to their beachhead to resume patrols. Beginning on July 15, the th and nd Infantry began efforts to make limited gains in their sector. Griswold had recognized that the 43rd Division alone could not take the island, and so issued instructions that units make small advances to probe the enemy lines and establish better positions as he planned for a larger offensive. The nd made use of three M-3 Stuart tanks from the Marines to blast apart some Japanese pillboxes that stood in their way. The constrictive terrain made the tanks vulnerable to Japanese anti-tank weapons, however, and the tanks were sitting ducks when not accompanied by infantry.

The infantry and tankers lacked any type of communication device to talk back and forth and so joint operations were limited to a case-by-case basis. The newly arrived Japanese 13th Infantry attempted to envelop the hill and overrun 1—th Infantry on the morning of July 18, but successive results failed to dislodge the Americans, who killed Japanese fighters. Other Japanese offensives that morning were aimed at cutting American supply lines and destroying command posts.

The effective box barrage was successful and the Japanese retreated.

World War II- Munda Island

By July 24, most of the 37th Division had arrived and General Griswold could begin his corps offensive. All positions were designated individual supply points and a depot was established offshore. A mm artillery battalion was assigned to each infantry regiment for direct support, while division and corps artillery offered general support. The essence, Griswold dictated, was speed. Small enemy positions were to be bypassed, contained, and reduced by follow-on forces.

From Makin to Bougainville: Marine Raiders in the Pacific War (Bairoko)

Japanese General Sasaki had three infantry regiments at his disposal, as well as miscellaneous artillery, engineer, and anti-aircraft units. Sasaki had actually intended to attack the American lines but Griswold struck first. The corps attack began on July 25, preceded by massive naval gunfire and air strike preparations. The 43rd attacked all along its front, making small gains here and there. Company E, rd Infantry broke through the enemy lines in the center but the division was unable to exploit this gap even though the bloodied 3—th was sent to support.

The 37th was similarly unable to generate much forward movement. Knowing that the Japanese liked to move up close to U. Covered by smoke, the rd pulled back a hundred yards. Then the nd put over a strong concentration onto the Japanese lines. They lifted fire back onto the Japanese pillboxes allowing the rd, reinforced by tanks and a flamethrower detachment from the th Engineer Battalion, to advance in force. By , the rd had advanced yards and destroyed seventy-four pillboxes. Repeating this process over and over, the 43rd fought its way forward until by the end of July it was close to the long sought-after airfield.

Meanwhile, the 37th was slogging through the high ground towards the middle of the island, trying to exploit any gap in the strong Japanese defenses. Because of the dense jungle and undulating terrain, the 37th was unable to duplicate the tactics of the 43rd. Tanks were frequently bogged down or unable to navigate the ravines and became prime targets for Japanese anti-tank units. Accompanying infantry and flamethrowers were then easily gunned down by concealed Japanese machine guns. The st Infantry was able to infiltrate the northern flank of the Japanese lines and made some gains there. The th Infantry moved quickly, brushing aside opposition, but soon lost contact with the st Infantry.

In the days of fighting, this gap increased and was exploited by Japanese patrols that struck at American supply dumps and support positions. By July 29, General Beightler, commander of the 37th Division, ordered that all units cease forward movements and make contact with each other across their lines.

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Rain added to the confusion on July 30, as the st and th desperately tried to close their lines with each other in the face of growing Japanese opposition. The th soon realized that they were cut off. On July 31, they destroyed their heavy equipment and began to fight their way back to the main lines of the 37th Division. Fighting their way along a trail, the advance was held up by machine-gun fire.

Wounded Private Rodger Young spotted the gunner and crawled forward. He was again wounded but closed to within grenade range. He was struck in the face, fatally, as he threw his grenade, which destroyed the machine gun position completely. For his heroism, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. August 1 found the unit completely without food and water.

Colonel Baxter, commander of the th, ordered a bayonet charge to clear the way back to the main lines. It worked. The beleaguered th passed through the American lines and into division reserve. August 1 was also a good day for the 43rd Division. Each regiment was on the front line and was able to advance nearly unopposed. As each regiment radioed back their progress, General Griswold theorized that this advance indicated a Japanese withdrawal. Therefore, at , he gave orders for a general advance by the entire corps. By nightfall, the entire line had advanced over 1, yards and the rd Infantry was sitting on the outer edges of Munda Airfield.

The reason for the rapid Japanese withdrawal was unclear at first to the Americans, but it was for the simple reason that they had been mauled to a force that was barely capable of holding part of the airfield. The continuous bombardment from the Navy, Air Corps, and artillery had made resupply and medical evacuation nearly impossible. Successive days of continuous advances by the now-veteran troops of the 43rd and 37th drove the Japanese from the secondary positions.

On August 5, the men of the rd and nd took possession of the entire airfield. Looking back on the operation, it would seem to have been a mixed success. What was originally supposed to have been a two-week operation with one division had turned into a brutal month-long slug-fest with two and a half divisions. Out of the 8, authorized men in the three infantry regiments of the 43rd Division, there were only 4, men on hand after Munda. Disease, the jungle, and the enemy had accounted for nearly half the division.

Of that number, 1, were psychoneurotic cases. It had taken over 26, men to take the small island. Just short of 1, had been killed in action or died of wounds. Over twice that number of Japanese were reported killed. However, the New Georgia Campaign had brought about several very successful results for the Allies. First, the Japanese force on New Georgia had, at its strength, been about 14, men. Current Army ground policy is to have a 3—1 ratio for offensive operations.

And because of this and the successive victories in the Solomons, they were allocated even more forces than they had expected. They were also able to replicate the New Georgia model on the rest of the Solomons and bypass or reduce all enemy possessions in the island chain. The victory gave the American fighting man the proof that the Japanese soldier was not an invincible mythical jungle creature that could not be defeated. Secondly, the U.

Munda Trail: The New Georgia Campaign, June–August 1943 eBook

By August 5, they were tough veterans, well-versed in the art of jungle warfare. The Army had realized that the World War I-era tactic of attacking behind a rolling barrage did not work in the thick jungles of the Pacific. Small unit combined arms tactics integrated with direct artillery support were key.

Establishing fire superiority with tanks, mortars, and heavy machine guns and then reducing defenses with flamethrowers became the signature for successive campaigns. The successful use of tanks in the jungle allowed for more armor to be moved to the Pacific, where the M4 Sherman, specifically the flamethrower version, was used to great effect. Third, the campaign showed gaps in the Allied command and control system. It reinforced the need for a unified command that was eventually established under Halsey and reflected in his appointment of Griswold as the overall operational commander.

The Allies would continue to hone their command and control model in order to bring their air, land, and sea forces into great coordination. Much of this was done through the task organization of Army and Navy units into different task forces with assigned and distinct areas of operation. New Georgia had taught all components that victory could only come through working closely with each other. Fourth, the victory brought greater Japanese attention to the Solomons.

While this would at first seem to be a negative point, it must be remembered that the Japanese ground forces were considerably smaller than what the Allies could bring to the field. Therefore, strengthening one area weakened another. The Japanese decision to hold the Solomon Islands meant that they pulled troops from other areas, such as the Central Pacific, to reinforce Bougainville and New Guinea.